Downton Abbey, part one

Downton Abbey, part one

By Raymond Freeman 06/20/2013


Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, says America has become like Downton Abbey.  This is a British soap opera set in a large country estate. (I’ve actually stayed in one.) It’s about the lives of an aristocratic family around WWI. They live in luxury and don’t work. The servants are trapped in poverty and work like slaves. Couldn’t happen here?


Don’t be too sure. It’s the right-wing’s vision for America. They’ll be the aristocracy. You’ll be a servant or a serf in the feudal system. An aristocrat ran for president here. Romney made his fortune by taking over companies, firing the servants and outsourcing their jobs to China. He was met with cheering crowds. He got 47 percent of the vote, not the aristocrats’ 4.7 percent. Go figure.


This lunacy goes back to Ronald Reagan. Reagan told Americans the economy would recover because his tax cuts and deregulation would unleash America’s economic tigers. At first, growth did take off. Obviously, Reagan’s magic wand did it! Obviously, we need lower taxes again! But he tripled national debt. Reagan’s “miracle” came from old-fashioned military spending with borrowed money. Nobody cared. Dick Cheney said, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Inflation fell, but only thanks to a Democrat running the Federal Reserve.


Thirty-five years of deliberate policy choices, mainly but not exclusively Republican, have killed the American Dream. If you voted for Republicans, your country was stolen from under your nose in broad daylight by burglars you invited in yourself. Except for inane “debates,” elections don’t consider economic policy. I’ve canvassed door-to-door around hundreds of homes, with prime cuts of economic policy handy. Only one person wanted to discuss them. So: let’s discuss them now.

 
The Economic Policy Institute’s “State of Working America” reported a real income decline, yes, DECLINE, for 90 percent of America between 1979 and 2008, despite massive productivity gains, longer hours, less security, worse benefits, etc., etc. CNN Money agreed. Over the past decade to 2011, earnings for middle-class Americans actually fell. Workers’ wages are now a lower percentage of the economy than they’ve ever been. Labor’s share of national income fell to a 60-year low in 2012, according to the Federal Reserve. Simply put, the pie’s getting bigger, but workers are getting smaller slices and going hungry.


Among industrialized countries, the U.S. had the highest percentage of employees in low-wage occupations in 2009. We’ve gone from a nation of well-paid manufacturing workers to a nation of low-paid service workers. Rather like Downton Abbey, in fact. Aha, you cry: class warfare!  


Indeed, m’ lord.  “Through the tax code, there has been class warfare waged, and my class has won,” investor Warren Buffett told Business Wire [Nov. 15, 2011]. “It’s been a rout.”  Buffett is one of the richest men in the world, self-made, with integrity, and a Democrat.


These findings go on and on.  In Vanity Fair (May 2012), Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz stated:  “While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.” The American Dream’s vanishing: “The chances of even a middle-class citizen making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries in Europe.  The cards are stacked against them.”


The Economist magazine agreed: “Social mobility in America is now among the lowest in the rich world.”  (Dec. 18, 2010).  And the Financial Times agreed:  “The annual incomes of the bottom 90 percent of U.S. families have been essentially flat since 1973 — having risen by only 10 percent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation.”  (July 31, 2010). The result?  “In today’s America, if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.”


The conclusion’s inescapable. Aided and abetted by their Republican stooges, the super-rich have been stealing workers’ fair share of productivity. Since 1947, when records started, the amount of goods and services produced per hour of work has risen by nearly 300 percent. So why don’t we feel 300 percent richer? Until the mid-1970s, the more productivity increased, the more the real wages of the average worker increased.  But after then, productivity continued to grow but wages stalled out.  So the average standard of living doubled in 25 years, then pretty well stagnated, except for those at the top.


These are serious issues of policy.  Congress won’t address them.  It’s owned by the 1 percent. That’s why patriotic citizens from the other 99 percent took to the streets to demand the return of the American Dream. These issues shape the very architecture of America. Tune in next time and see how.

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